Pursuant to a request for a state law decision from the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, the California Supreme Court has interpreted Education Code section 56041 to say that the district of the parents' residence is responsible for providing special education services to an eligible inmate of a county jail who is between the age of 18 and 22. (Los Angeles Unified School District v. Garcia (Dec. 12, 2013) ___ Cal.4th ___, 2013 WL 6501267.)
Michael Garcia was identified as eligible for special education services in the 2nd grade while living with his mother within the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD). His mother continues to reside within the boundaries of LAUSD to this day. At age 15, Garcia was arrested and detained in L.A. County Juvenile Hall. While in Juvenile Hall, he received special education through the L.A. County Office of Education. When he turned 18, Garcia was transferred to the L.A. County Jail to await trial. In 2008, a dispute arose as to which public education agency was responsible for providing Garcia with special education services. After a due process hearing, the Office of Administrative Hearings held that LAUSD was responsible based on Section 56041.
Section 56041 states that a non-conserved student who still needs special education services when he or she turns 18 is the responsibility of the parents' district of residence. Although Section 56041 does not expressly address incarcerated adults, and although there was legislative history to suggest that the provision was originally enacted for a narrow fiscal purpose, the California Supreme Court nonetheless held that Section 56041 is broadly worded and therefore applies to all special education-eligible individuals from age 18 to 22 who are not otherwise covered by the alternate residence provisions of Education Code section 48404(a). The Court noted that the Legislature has carved out numerous exceptions in Section 48404(a), such as children in foster homes or mental hospitals, but did not create an express exception for adults in county jails. The Court concluded that it was more consistent to rely on the usual rules that assign responsibility for special education services based on parent residency.
Rejecting the arguments of LAUSD and the amicus California School Boards Association (CSBA), the Court held that the logistical problems of service delivery in the jail setting and the compliance issues that might arise were not insurmountable and no greater than in situations where non-public schools or agencies provide service by contract on behalf of a responsible district. Since responsible districts often contract with private agencies or other local education agencies, that option was available in the jail setting as well.